The race to succeed term-limited Toledo City Council President Rob Ludeman features a mayor's daughter, the former head of the police union, a bankrupt Republican whistle-blower, and a karate-chopping grandma, among others.
Welcome to District 2, where a razor-thin margin in the Sept. 11 primary could decide who will be the public voice for the city's flustered middle class. There are 10 candidates in the nonpartisan ballot race. The top two finishers will advance to the general election on Nov. 6.
"Every vote counts," declared former Toledo Mayor John McHugh at a recent strategy meeting for his daughter and candidate, Molly McHugh Branyan.
Mrs. Branyan, a Realtor and Democrat, has 28 members of her immediate family living within the district. Her campaign focuses on cooperation among the councilmen and the mayor - a message she believes will resonate with voters.
"Everything can't be good," her father said at the meeting. "What are the negatives?"
"I'll be honest with you," Mrs. Branyan responded. "I haven't heard anything."
Having 10 candidates attests to people's frustrations, said Joe Kidd, who is best known for telling investigators that Republican fund-raiser Tom Noe, now imprisoned, laundered donations to President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign.
As Mr. Kidd canvassed for votes last week with about 20 volunteers, he came across a cracked sidewalk filled with chunks of loose concrete. The sidewalk crystallized in his mind what happens when a city government is unable to meet the basic needs of residents.
"How is a child supposed to ride his bike on this sidewalk? This is an accident waiting to happen," said Mr. Kidd, who plans to quit his commute to a finance job in suburban Detroit if elected.
Jeff Simpson, a criminal attorney and the endorsed Republican, sees room for optimism. If voters were truly distraught and frustrated with Toledo, he explained, they would move. The newcomer has tender knuckles from knocking on doors.
"I don't have the advantage of cashing in my 401(k) because I don't have one, so I've got to run on shoe leather and sweat," said Mr. Simpson, who tells voters that as a fiscal conservative he will thoughtfully manage their money.
Democrat Karen Shanahan did liquidate part of her retirement savings to mount a second campaign for council, which has included martial arts demonstrations at senior centers.
Mrs. Shanahan recalled talking with one voter who was stunned that the city would line its boulevards with flowers despite a projected budget deficit next year of $17 million. She said voters find politicians to be indifferent.
"They just feel like people aren't just listening," Mrs. Shanahan said.
Democrat Ed Cichy benefits from his background as a customer service representative for Kroger by talking to voters one-on-one, placing phone calls whenever he has a free moment. His theory is that the city budget, jobs, and public safety are all linked.
"It's like a domino effect," Mr. Cichy said. "If one of those three don't work, the other two aren't going to work."
About half of likely voters in District 2 are registered Democrats, according to turnout at recent elections. More than 30 percent are Republicans, and almost 20 percent are unaffiliated.
The Cichy campaign projects 5,373 likely voters. With 10 candidates in the running, the race becomes wildly unpredictable.
When Steve Leggett, 19, goes door-to-door, he says people promise to support him. They listen to the University of Toledo student's argument for a bulked-up police force, but their promises are fleeting.
"You'll go to that house a week later and they'll have a Molly McHugh Branyan or Karen Shanahan sign," Mr. Leggett said. "It's very difficult to read people."
Voters are more straightforward on the issues, candidates say. Most in District 2 dislike the higher trash collection fees. They want a renovated Southwyck Shopping Center, smoother roads, and protection from flooded basements.
They are simultaneously drawn to and repelled by strippers at a Democratic fund-raiser or the mayor's dog being left in an SUV on a hot day.
"People are very disenchanted with anything politics-oriented: political parties, political tricks, dictators," said Republican Mary Ann Haupricht, an insurance agent who lost to the departing Mr. Ludeman in 1993. "They tune everything out that is political."
Which is why some candidates are running as anti-politicians. Unaffiliated with any party, D. Michael Collins campaigns on his past role as president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, a job that taught him fluency in municipal finances and how to manage tense contract negotiations.
"Negotiations aren't just with labor," said Mr. Collins, who is a criminal justice instructor at the University of Toledo. "Negotiations are life."
Also unaffiliated, Mario Campos works as a sales manager at Lowe's. He passes out business cards with phone numbers for different city departments in the hope that voters will hold onto them as a resource.
As a former Army Ranger, Mr. Campos said he made tough decisions for the good of an entire unit.
He said Toledo needs someone comfortable with making difficult choices in order to restore the community.
"One thing I've learned is that a bad situation does not get better with time," Mr. Campos said.
Joanna Baron, a lawyer and registered Democrat, said she entered the race to reform a municipal code hostile to businesses. Ms. Baron is cutting television commercials to reach voters, but she said just the paperwork that comes with a candidacy makes a campaign difficult.
"It's not as easy as I thought," she said. "There are a lot of forms you've got to fill out."
Contact Joshua Boak at: